You go to the demonstrations, write letters and email to Congress; and yet, you feel as if your voice is not being heard. What if there was a way for your voice, and the voices of your compatriots, to actually be heard? There is–it is called micropower broadcasting or free radio.
Micropower broadcasting began as a means to empower the residents of a housing project in Springfield, Illinois in the late 1980’s. By creating a low power FM broadcast station, this community established its own voice and a direct means to fight against police brutality and repression. Unlicensed and unsanctioned by the government, Human Rights Radio, as it is now known, continues to broadcast to this very day.
Since then, micropower broadcasting has grown into a national movement of electronic civil disobedience. Based on the principles of Free Speech and Direct Action, micropower broadcasting seeks to reclaim the electronic commons of the airwaves–a public resource and trust stolen by the corporate broadcasters, aided and abetted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other appendages of the US Government.
Continuing in the rich tradition of the struggle to speak freely and be heard, micropower broadcasting has traded the historic soapbox for the FM broadcast transmitter. Advances in technology and design have allowed for the creation of FM transmitters at a very low cost in comparison to standard, commercial broadcasting equipment. An entire FM broadcast station covering a radius of 5-12 miles can be assembled for $1000 or less.
Yes, there are legal risks involved. Such stations are violating FCC regulations and statutes, and are subject to possible legal actions such as threatening letters or fines, and sometimes seizure of equipment. Despite this, at any given time, there are hundreds of stations on the air across the United States. Unfortunately, stations tend to go on the air in isolation from one another, making them an easier target for the FCC.
Despite the somewhat uncoordinated efforts of the last ten years, hundreds of micropower stations taking to the airwaves forced the FCC to respond to a rapidly growing, ungovernable situation. William Kennard, former head of the FCC, admitted this is in a documentary, LPFM–The Peoples’ Voice, produced by the United Church of Christ’s Microradio Implementation Project. (http://www.veriteproductions.net/html/awards.html; http://www.current.org/in/in009LPFM.html) Adding further legitimacy to the micropower broadcasting movement, the FCC’s own study on possible interference issues, The Mitre Study (http://prometheusradio.org/release_71303.shtml), failed to show even marginal interference to full power broadcasters by low power FM stations. It went further to recommend the lifting of burdensome restrictions imposed on the LPFM broadcasting service. For years, the National Association of Broadcasters(NAB), representing corporate interests, has used interference as a red herring issue in their attempts to stifle the Free Speech Rights of micropower broadcasters. Joined by National Public Radio, the NAB, using bogus interference claims augmented with political grease, succeeded in getting a bill, ironically titled, The Broadcast Preservation Act of 1999, passed by Congress to severely limit the number of LPFM stations authorized by the FCC when they established the LPFM service in January of 1999. Whether it was the Free Speech fights of the Wobblies, folks refusing to go to the back of the bus or hundreds of unsanctioned low power FM taking to the airwaves, mass movements creating ungovernable situations do work.
Therefore, we are calling for a day of electronic solidarity and direct action, marking the beginning of a new chapter in micropower broadcasting by raising the struggle to an entirely new level of engagement. Between now and October, 17th, we are asking you and your community to create your own broadcast station to further empower your vision of a just, humane, peaceful and sustainable world.
Hundreds of new stations going on the air all at once will be a powerful statement to the corporate media and the government that the airwaves belong to the people who have chosen to seize them back, speaking in one strong collective voice. With budgets and resources stretched thin, the FCC will be hard-pressed to respond to such an expression of solidarity. This action will encourage many more communities to set up their own broadcast stations. Schools, arts centers, housing projects, senior communities; all could be empowered with free radio broadcasting. Critical mass can be achieved within a very short period of time.
To further amplify this collective voice, a mass 24 hour broadcast of the same programming by hundreds of micropower stations would meld hundreds of small voices into one giant shout for Free Speech Rights. Using the existing infrastructure of the Internet and audio streaming technologies which have been employed by the Independent Media Centers since 1999, a common audio stream would be created for re-broadcasting. Individual stations would work collectively to create programming for this 24 hour broadcast. Given the number of IMC sites in the US, they could serve as hubs for the audio streams, both incoming and outgoing. And, quite possibly, stations outside the US would join in as well, creating a global movement to reclaim the broadcast spectrum.
Setting up a basic FM broadcast station requires the following items. Approximate price ranges are given.
Transmitter–$150 to $600 Power Supply–$35to $100 Antenna–$15 to $125 Antenna cable–$50 to $75 Compressor/limiter–$80 to $100 Audio mixer–$75 to $150 Microphones $25 to $50 each Tape and CD players, go to garage sales or get donated units Donated 300-500 Mhz computer to work as an MP3 sound file jukebox. Allows unattended playing of program material as needed.
Transmitters are available as kits or fully assembled units. Assembled units are mostly available from vendors in the UK. A list of vendors follows at the end of this article. A very serviceable antenna can be built from common * inch copper water pipe for $15 in materials or a commercial unit, the Comet 5/8 groundplane, costs $115-$125.
To facilitate the creation of hundreds of new stations, weekend workshops will be scheduled at selected locations around the country between now and October 17th. At the end of the workshop you will be able to walk away with a fully assembled transmitter and antenna. As an introduction to setting up an FM broadcast station, Free Radio Berkeley has a Micropower Broadcasting Primer available as a PDF document either on their website–www.freeradio.org–or by email request–email@example.com. Thanks to a collaborative design effort, Free Radio Berkeley will be offering a partially assembled 1-10 watt variable output power transmitter kit for $150. This transmitter can cover a radius of 4-6 miles and will drive a higher power amplifier of 75 watts which is available as kit for $115.
With your own radio station, you will be able to provide alternative programming that is rarely heard in most communities unless they are fortunate enough to have a Pacifica station or an independent community station nearby. Thanks to the internet, there is a wealth of programming available in addition to what you will be able to produce locally. A collaborative web site–www.radio4all.net–established by the micropower broadcasting community in 1997 has over 2000 radio programs available for downloading in MP3 format. New programs are being uploaded daily. Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org), Working Assets Radio (www.workingforchange.com/radio/index.cfm) and Making Contact (www.radioproject.org), to name a few, offer extensive archives of programs for downloading. The Independent Media Center Radio Site not only has a large archive of programming but lists other programming sources, web streams from free radio stations, and a variety of other resources as well.
To paraphrase “Scoop” Nisker, if you don’t like the media, go out and make your own. It is time to move from being a passive consumer of media to becoming a co-creator in a movement which gives voice to the voiceless. If you can’t communicate, you can’t organize. If you can’t organize, you can’t fight back. And, if you can’t fight back, you have no chance of winning.
Stephen Dunifer of Free Radio Berkeley can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Day of Mass Electronic Civil Disobedience Celebrating International Media Democracy Day Friday, October 17, 2003
Free Radio Berkeley–www.freeradio.org Veronica–http://www.veronica.co.uk/ Broadcast Warehouse–www.broadcastwarehouse.com Panaxis–http://www.panaxis.com/ NRG Kits–http://www.nrgkits.com/ PCS Electronics–http://www.pcs-electronics.com/en/index.php Zzounds, for audio gear–http://www.zzounds.com
Democracy Now–www.democracynow.org Radio4all–www.radio4all.net
KPFA programming links–www.kpfa.org/5_link.htm
KGNU program archives–www.kgnu.org/news.html
Pacifica Radio Archives–www.pacificaradioarchives.org